Wine and food pairing know-how is one of the first steps to unlocking the true pleasures of wine. More importantly, it’s a great way to impress your friends the next time you’re out at a restaurant. Here’s the good news – it’s not as hard as it looks. With a few simple principles, you can become a wine-pairing wiz in no time.
As meat is the centerpiece of so many classic European dishes, it’s a good place to start. Remember that the sauce served with meat will affect the flavor – and therefore the wine pairing – quite a bit, and the pairings here are therefore kept to the flavors of the meat themselves. Let’s get started with five of the most common meats that you’ll find on the dinner table.
When it comes to pairing wine with beef (and meat in general), here is one useful rule: more fat equals more tannins. Tannins are the textural elements of a wine that make it taste dry, bitter and astringent that are most often found of full-bodied red wines. Lean cuts of beef (like round roast or top sirloin) should have a light or medium bodied red wine like a Tempranillo, a Merlot or a standard table red. Fattier cuts of beef should have a more intense wine.
A full-bodied red wine with lots of tannins (like an Barolo, Bordeaux blend or a Cabernet Sauvignon) can cut through the strong and rich flavors of a fatty cut of beef like t-bone or ribeye steak. A lighter red or a white will be overpowered by these flavors. Tannins act as a palate cleanser and cleanse the mouth of the feeling that fat leaves.
As another red meat, lamb should also be matched with red wines that have a lot of flavor. However, lamb’s flavor is a bit more complex and subtle than beef. That means that it can pair nicely with medium-bodied reds or some full-bodied reds that have smoother tannins (like a Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon), while it is best to avoid the heaviest red full-bodied red wines that might go great with a beef steak.
When it comes to Western dining, pork is usually considered a red meat, but it bucks this trend slightly when it comes to wine pairing. That’s because it often less fatty than beef, but can still be quite rich. You can pair it with a light red wine like a Gamay or Pinot Noir. Unlike beef or lamb, however, pork can comfortably match with a dry white wine that is high in acidity, for example French Chardonnay.
A white meat that comes through with much more delicate, far less powerful flavor than red meat, chicken is nonetheless a versatile meat when it comes to wine pairing. Lovers of white wine will have a lot of reason to be happy, as this bird goes great with a variety of dry and rich white wines. When it comes to red wines, look for light and medium red wines like Grenache and Pinot Noir, which will complement the bird’s light flavor without overpowering it.
These rules will also generally apply to other white meat poultry, like turkey breast or quail, as well – for example, Zinfandel is often referred to as the ideal wine to pair with a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner. Bear in mind that when it comes to lightly flavored poultry, the sauce of a dish will make a lot of difference. Try to match the intensity of the flavors on the plate to the intensity of your wine.
The classic wine pairing for duck is a Pinot Noir – some of the finest Pinot Noir in the world comes from France, where they know exactly how to prepare a great duck dish. The same goes for other light and medium-bodied reds like Merlot, Barolo or Zinfandel. The bold fruitiness of these wines can stand up to the delicately rich flavors of duck. Interestingly, this is a meat that can also match nicely with sweet white wines, especially when served with fruity sauces (think Duck à l’Orange). The same should generally go for darker poultry like goose, pigeon and dark turkey meat.
Not sure what to make of all this “light-bodied”, “full-bodied” stuff? Check out our quick guide below to make your next meat pairing way easier.
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